It’s Not Just a Buzzword: How to Build a Strategic Company Culture

Nov 18, 2021
It’s Not Just a Buzzword: How to Build a Strategic Company Culture

Do you know the phrase “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”? 

If you’re in the HR world, chances are that it’s been quoted to you at least once - and it didn’t come out of nowhere. 

Regardless of how many plans you make or how much strategizing you do, your company culture can change everything about your organization. It will set the tone of your business above and beyond any strategic plan you try to implement. 

We talked to the VP of Human Resources at Tailor Brands, Yael Sapir-Zehavi, who shared a few tips on how she built a strong company culture at Tailor Brands - and how you can do the same. 

Let’s dive in! 

Establish Values to Live By 

Your company values are the foundation of your culture. Full stop. A clear set of values will help your employees understand what you stand for, and how they fit into that big picture in their day to day.  

“This is where the top-down aspects of creating company culture come into play,” said Sapir-Zehavi. “Our values aren’t what we want to be - they’re not a compass - but the way we do things. It was really important for us to have multiple examples so that we could easily share our culture with new hires. With clearly defined values, we have the ability to say, ‘This is how we do things at Tailor Brands, this is our DNA.’” 

At Tailor Brands, she went on to say, all of the values are really about making room for the people who work there: 

  • Start with trust (autonomy) 

  • Try, fail, repeat 

  • Make something beautiful 

  • Powered by results 

 

Once you establish your own values, they need to infuse everything you do within your organization from the bottom up - starting with the language that you use. 

Implement a Clear Company Language 

It may sound a bit obvious, but what differentiates humans from animals is the fact that we can speak with one another - and the language you use will define the reality of your company.  

That’s because language is the ability to put symbols on words and to communicate through those symbols. Both you and your team members can use the word “autonomy”, for example,  and the fact that you both know what it is allows you to be able to expand on the idea. 

“If you have an organizational language that’s easy for you to use, then you’ll be able to implement the organizational culture that you want to promote. For example, while we do have a hierarchical structure [at Tailor Brands], our culture isn’t hierarchical at all. You’ll rarely find someone using the word ‘employees’ - we’re all ‘team members’ here, and everyone is an equal part of the team,” said Yael. 

“That’s one of the reasons establishing our values was an important part of building our culture,” she continued. “In meetings, it’s normal to hear things like ‘okay, try, fail, repeat; worse comes to worst, we won’t use it’ or, ‘You know what? Start with trust, go ahead and let’s see how it goes.’ We bring our values into our day-to-day conversation, our everyday language.” 

Creating this shared language ultimately helps foster the kind of environment you want to promote within your company. 

Walk the Talk

...but actually. Everyone says the same thing, that it’s super important to put your words (or values) into action, but what does that look like in practice? 

Yael addressed a few ways to walk the talk in three key areas: Your office design, the structure of your business, and the degree to which you let your team make their own choices. 

Let your office reflect your culture 

How you build and design your office is a great way to infuse the culture that you want to implement. 

“Our CEO has a desk in the open space, right next to our team,” Sapir-Zehavi emphasized. “He doesn’t have a big office with his door closed, and neither does HR, Finance, any of the upper management; all of the management sits within the larger team.” This is another way to reinforce the non-hierarchical culture at Tailor Brands. 

And, for companies that are still working over Zoom, office structure is especially important. “We believe that one of the things that help people have conversations via Zoom is the fact that everyone is equal. If you’re not at the office and you’re on a call with six people who are all sitting together in a room, you’re missing the small nuances of conversation. If someone tells a joke, the people in the room laugh, and you didn’t hear it - you’ll feel like an outsider. “

These seemingly small things can create such a big impact on the sense of an employee’s belonging in your company - which translates into how engaged they are. So what are some possible solutions?  

“We make sure that if we have big conversations over Zoom, no more than two or three people are in the same room so that people who are working from home don’t feel like outsiders. We’ll never have five people together in a meeting with one person on the outside if we can avoid it.” 

Yael went on to say that, as Tailor Brands is expanding and looking for a new office that can accommodate the growing team, it’s important to them to find a solution that supports a hybrid workspace. “We want to keep the open space concept, but we do need to consider a space that includes a lot of little ‘breakout’ rooms that will let people join larger Zoom conversations - without making those who are joining from home feel excluded.”  

Create an organizational structure that supports your values 

The structural way in which your team works is just as important to building the type of culture you want. For example, if you want employees to understand your KPIs, to know what they’re trying to accomplish, and that what they do has an impact on the company’s overall end goals, you have to have an organizational structure that allows them to do that. 

“We work in pods - small autonomous groups that mirror a business unit - on an aspect of the product, with everything you need in order to reach your goal. Pods make it easy to obtain an internal locus of control and create a sense of responsibility in each team member, making everyone feel like they’re essential to the team,” said Yael.   

Whether you work in pods or sprints, encourage Summer Fridays or a three-day work week, make sure that the organizational structure you implement reflects your values in some way. This could also include things like: 

  • Establishing clear KPIs for each team member at the beginning of every project 

  • Have regular team meetings in which you review and analyze results, both at the company level and the team level

  • Quarterly presentations from each Team Lead

  • Monthly offsites for strategic planning 

And, last but not least: 

Give your employees freedom of choice 

Once you have the foundation of what you believe in as a company, reflect it in any way you can! If making your employees feel seen is a priority for you, don’t make decisions for your team that they can make for themselves. 

This doesn’t have to (only) apply to important company decisions; for example, if you offer meal cards, why not let your team decide individually if they want to use Uber-Eats or DoorDash (or whichever meal cards are popular in your area)? Giving your employees the freedom to choose will empower them to make decisions in other areas, make them feel seen by your company, and give them the feeling that they have a seat at the table

Start Creating the Culture You Believe in 

Building a company culture isn’t a lofty goal; it’s a sensible process that’s not just top-down or bottom-up, but an integrative approach. 

So, start by defining what your values are and being explicit about them. Don’t just use them as a guide, but as a blueprint for how you do things in your company. 

“When you clarify what your values are, it helps people understand the rules of the game,” Sapir-Zehavi emphasized. 

Then, make sure those rules are consistent! Use language that helps people internalize these values, build an organizational culture that lets the team express themselves within it, and design your office as a place where you can share these values and evoke them. Follow these steps, and you’ll be able to set the tone for your company that both employees and management will connect to. 

 

Author Bio: This article is written by our marketing team at HR Cloud. HR Cloud is a leading provider of HR solutions, including recruiting, onboarding, employee engagement, and intranet software. Our aim is to help your company improve employee engagement, employee productivity, and to save you valuable time!

You can connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.